The Greens have negotiated a deal to support a Labor Government in exchange for Parliamentary reform, greater involvement in policy and Budget input, greater funding for dental health, the ditching of Labor’s disastrous citizens’ assembly in exchange for an all-party Parliamentary committee, and referenda on indigenous and local government recognition.

The deal was agreed this morning between the Greens and Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan, formally locking in the support of Adam Bandt in the House of Representatives to give Labor 73 seats, and guaranteeing Supply, given the balance of power held by the Senate Greens from  July 1, 2011.

The key elements of the deal are:

  • a “Climate Change Committee” to be drawn from MPs from all sides committed to a carbon price, to be joined by independent experts (including, possibly, business representatives) who are also committed to a carbon price, to determine the path to one. The committee will, in the words of the Greens, “supersede” the government’s “citizens’ assembly” proposal that was savaged during the election campaign;
  • more investment in dental care to be “considered” in the 2011 Budget;
  • a debate on Afghanistan;
  • a high-speed rail study by July 2011;
  • Parliamentary reforms, including a Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner, greater time for private members’ bills, a Parliamentary Budget Office to be established as part of the Parliamentary Library, more representation of independents and Greens in Question Time, and a process for resolving stand-offs between Parliament and Ministers over the release of documents;
  • Labor resubmitting its reforms to electoral funding laws that were rejected in the previous Parliament, but with the addition of a “truth in advertising” offence under the Commonwealth Electoral Act and a commitment to a “national inquiry” by October next year on reforms to political funding and election campaigns, including the Greens’ proposal for full public funding of campaigns;
  • referenda, either during the next three years or at the 2013 election, on recognition of indigenous Australians and local government; and
  • Brown and Bandt to meet regularly with the PM or her representatives, have input to the Budget process and have policy proposals costed by the Public Service, and Bandt to be briefed regularly on economic and fiscal circumstances.


The Greens’ opportunity to exploit the hung Parliament to progress their agenda was always going to hampered by the early commitment by Adam Bandt that he would only support a progressive government, which ruled out support for the Coalition, and the Greens’ preference deal with Labor during the campaign, which attracted constant attacks from conservatives.

Moreover, many of the commitments made by the Government in today’s documents were already locked in either through previous Labor policy or by commitments made to the three rural independents. Labor  was already proposing a high-speed rail study — as was the Coalition — and will be quite happy to return its electoral funding bill, shamefully rejected in the last Parliament by the Coalition and Steve Fielding, to the Parliament, although it will be less happy about committing to a “truth in advertising” addition to electoral laws. And it has already committed to an overhaul of Parliamentary processes in its discussions with Windsor, Oakeshott and Katter.

And you can bet Julia Gillard was only too happy to get an excuse to dump the “citizens’ assembly” idea, which played a key role in derailing her election campaign.

There’s also a fair bit of uncertainty over some of the commitments made — dental funding will only be “considered” in the forthcoming Budget, as will Bob Brown’s bill to enable above-the-line preferential voting in the Senate, which the major parties will instinctively oppose. And the referenda commitments made by Labor, important as they are, are not threshold issues for anyone.

Nevertheless, what the Greens have secured is a substantial and preferential policy role in a Labor Government. This is not a formal coalition, and Bandt will not be participating in a Labor Government, but he will routinely be receiving preferential access to economic and fiscal information, he and Bob Brown will be regularly dealing with senior government representatives (quite a difference from when Penny Wong and Kevin Rudd entirely ignored them during the CPRS debate); they will have, in effect, free access to the Commonwealth Public Service to have policies analysed and costed, and they have a guaranteed entry into the Budget and legislative processes.

At this morning’s press conference, News Ltd journalists were hectoring Brown about how his agreement with Labor gave the Greens nothing and was merely an excuse to keep Labor in office and enable it to dump a deeply unpopular policy. Brown correctly noted in response that it would inevitably be portrayed negatively by The Australian, which with other Murdoch papers has already launched a campaign to delegitimise Labor and the Greens and demand another election. Brown said Tony Abbott had already told him he would be attacking the deal.

But what the Greens will have secured if Labor is able to hang onto office is, in effect, an all care and no responsibility role in a Labor Government, giving the Greens many of the benefits of incumbency without any of the responsibilities. That will enable the Greens to substantially beef up their contribution to public debate and start operating in a manner similar to a major party, especially as it will have more senators and an MP to spread portfolios across. The Greens have ambitions to grow considerably bigger over coming Parliaments, and this will be a key enabler for them to do it.

For the Greens, it’s that role in the policy process that is the real benefit here, not the rest of the package, which advances its agenda a few steps, but not all that far.